Biomechanical principles behind the method
Joseph H. Pilates developed his method of training over 60 years ago in the early 1920s. He designed an exercise program called Contrology, with more than 500 exercises, with the objective of increasing strength, stretch and control, improve flexibility maintaining the spine stabilization and body alignment.
The stability of the spine and control of movement timing during the exercises allows the back to support loading while maintaining a given posture or while performing a specific movement.
The achievement of spine stability has been associated with a decreased risk of lower back injury. Several studies support the concept that spine stability in healthy individuals is achieved by co-activation of the paraspinal and abdominal muscles. The Pilates method also teaches breathing techniques and how to recruit the pelvic floor muscles during the execution of many exercises.
The method provides the use of an apparatus that exploits the resistance of springs, pulleys and sliding carriages.
The key for a good posture
The great intuition of J. Pilates was to focus on strengthening the abdominal-lumbar muscles. Indeed this muscular ring that runs around the lower part of the column is the key for a good posture and it is what he called Powerhouse. It is composed by many muscles and it is constantly activated in every single exercise in Pilates as it provides the correct stabilization, supporting the spine whilst moving the extremities.
Every movement comes from the center of the body, we must always start from a basic situation of “active” powerhouse and body alignment so that the muscles of the abdomen and lumbar belt are always ready to support any muscular effort of the rest of the body without overloading the spine.
Benefits of Pilates
Several benefits have been associated with regular Pilates practice:
• Improvement of musclar tone, trophism and flexibility
• Improvement of joint mobility
• Improvement of coordination, alignment and balance
• Improvement of lung capacity
• Improvement of the functionality of the blood circulation
• Promotes the mind-body relaxation
• It helps to release stress of everyday life and work
• Increases self-confidence
Joseph Pilates used to say: “the important thing is not what you’re doing but how you are doing what you do.”
This phrase indicates the main purpose of his technique: making the person conscious of his own body, able to perceive exactly how his body is moving even during the simplest of the exercises.
There are six basic principles in Pilates:
-CONCENTRATION: the focus is not only about moving, but more extended to the whole body, which can be translated as active awareness performing the exercises. (Proprioception)
-CONTROL: Every Pilates exercise is done with complete muscular control. No body part is left to its own devices. It is all a conscious, deliberate movement under the mind control.
-CENTERING: This concept is defined as physically bringing the focus to the center of the body, the powerhouse area between the lower ribs and pubic bone. Energetically speaking Pilates exercises are sourced from center.
-FLOW: The movement should be harmonious, fluid and controlled at the same time. Flow comes with practice and consistent exercise, after having built a strong center of gravity.
-PRECISION: it derives from motion control; performing the exercises with precision leads to a balance between the various muscle groups which it leads, in everyday life, to more graceful and energy efficient movements.
-BREATHING: this concept is the base for an efficient and correct execution of every exercise. Inhalation and exhalation should be smooth and complete; where one ends the other begins giving continuity to the breath that must be coordinated to the movement.
What makes Pilates so peculiar is the usage of springs. The benefits that comes from this great intuition are based on important physiological principles of the human body movement.
All the exercises in Pilates follow a flow, a cycle of lengthening some muscles followed by a contraction of the same. You go away from your centre and then you come into it again.
This principle is known in biomechanics as “Lengthening-shortening cycle”, and is basically the base of the human and animal movement since is the foundation of the simple walking or running.
The muscle-tendon complex works exactly as a spring: it stores elastic energy while stretched, which is then returned as movement.
The use of springs allows to improve the elasticity of the tendons and the muscular efficiency, which leads in a more economical movements in everyday life.
Finally, while you use a group of muscles to resist the tension of the springs you are stretching the opposite muscles with a great increase in term of flexibility.
This is why Pilates originally was born as a method, a complex system of corrective and postural exercises able to work on a different levels, not only as a fitness training.
As a Physiotherapist I was introduced to Classical Pilates during my Postgraduate studies and it was love at first sight. I know how important it is to have a global vision in rehabilitation and I feel Classical Pilates has definitely given me a very different eye in my practice, when it comes to treatment and outlook on injuries, especially when talking about back pain and postural reeducation.
Maria Chiara Galvan
Classical Pilates Instructor & Physiotherapist